As we are wrapping up our discussion of the comma, it’s a good time to define the comma and look at the most common usages of it.
A Comma is a punctuation mark. (,)
Commas can be found in:
- separate clauses,
- direct speech,
- to mark off parts of a sentence,
- with however,
- to separate adjectives,
- and finally, to distinguish a name from the rest of the sentence.
Using a comma in a List:
They bought books, pens, staples, and erasers.
(This is where the Oxford Comma comes in. I blogged about it earlier. When the last comma in the series is placed before ‘and’ or ‘or,’ it is known as the Oxford Comma.)
Using the Oxford comma helps you avoid misunderstandings, as illustrated in the following:)
My favorite burgers are bacon, cheddar and mushroom and swiss cheese.
Without the final comma, ‘the Oxford,’ in this sentence, the hamburgers could be either mushroom and swiss cheese burgers, or cheddar and swiss cheese.
“There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and those who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken.” ~Lynne Truss
Regardless of which camp you fall in, either sentence is correct. It appears to me that the Oxford comma makes your meaning understood.
Using a comma to Separate clauses:
Commas indicate where one phrase or clause ends, and another begins.
- Use them where two independent clauses (sentences that are complete and make sense on their own) are joined by conjunctions like ‘and,’ ‘or,’ and ‘but.’
I walked to the shops, and I took the bus home.
- Use them after a relative clause, which is a clause beginning with ‘who,’ ‘which,’ ‘that,’ ‘whom,’ or ‘where.’
Authors, who write every day, create a daily habit.
- Use them when you start a sentence with a subordinate or dependent clause. This type of clause does not express a complete thought. It is not a complete sentence.
After we changed the place for the conference, we went home.
- Use them after introductory words or phrases.
Once again, I was sent home for my bad behavior.
Using a comma in Direct Speech:
Use them to quote somebody’s words exactly as they are said or spoken.
Johnny answered, ‘I think we have a problem.’
‘No, you’re wrong,’ she said.
Using a comma to Mark Off certain parts of a sentence:
Use the comma to add information that could be inserted in brackets or between dashes. This information is NOT essential to the main sentence to make sense.
His latest novel, The Institute, was another bestseller.
Using a comma with However:
Use commas before and after words like ‘however’ and ‘nevertheless.’
However, she was still late for the bus.
- TIP: Don’t use a comma after ‘however’ when it means ‘in whatever way.’
However hard she tried; she couldn’t make the cut.
Using a comma to Separate Adjectives:
We need commas if the adjectives are each separate description for an object or person.
Sarah’s gorgeous, uppity, devious partner
So, while NOT needing commas to separate all adjectives, we merely need them in the case when the adjectives are part of the same object of the sentence.
Lydia’s white cotton blouse
And, finally, using the comma to distinguish a Name from the rest of the sentence:
When you are addressing a person directly, the use of commas will set off their titles, names, or terms of endearment.
George, did you sell the farm?
Oh, honey, of course, I will.
Good morning, Colonel.
So, there you have it. I hope you found these short lessons on comma usage to be useful to you and your writing.
Until next time,